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Free to Choose: A Personal Statement (1980)

by Milton Friedman, Rose Friedman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,919188,783 (4.1)25
The international bestseller on the extent to which personal freedom has been eroded by government regulations and agencies while personal prosperity has been undermined by government spending and economic controls. New Foreword by the Authors; Index.

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Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
I decided to revisit Free to Choose almost four decades after first reading it because Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism strongly suggested that Milton Friedman, or at least the ideas and policies he championed, had some explaining to do.

At the time Free was published, several events recounted in Klein’s book already lay in the recent past. I wondered, did Free talk at all about them? If so, would it claim that the acts described in Shock were expressive of Free’s sunny capitalistic optimism? Worth finding out, I thought, since the events Klein described were less than sunny and more like extinction of national independence, more like deploying any means possible to achieve arguable goals, more like the dungeon of a violent medieval torturer laboring at behest of a capitalist cabal.

Now, I’ve long been influenced by what Free to Choose advocates because free market capitalism can be more dynamic, creative, and rewarding than the results of central economic planning. But I am appalled at what Klein catalogues in The Shock Doctrine.

In the Introduction to Free to Choose, Milton and Rose Friedman note that “Adam Smith’s key insight was that both parties to an exchange can benefit and that, so long as cooperation is strictly voluntary, no exchange will take place unless both parties do benefit. No external force, no coercion, no violation of that freedom is necessary to produce cooperation among individuals all of whom can benefit.” They go on to say that “The combination of economic and political power in the same hands is a sure recipe for tyranny.” A good warning.

However, the “shock doctrine” criticized by Klein violates “Adam Smith’s key insight” in the most extreme way by applying violence or its threat against all parties who do not want to cooperate. Instead of being “strictly voluntary,” it is strictly coercive. As the Friedmans write, “The armed robbers’ ‘Your money or your life’ offers me a choice, but no one would describe it as a free choice, or the subsequent exchange as voluntary.” Yet that is the effect of acts described in The Shock Doctrine. The purpose of the violations Klein reports are to lodge economic power with those who do the violating, or with corporate entities or plutocrats on whose behalf the violations are executed. It is not an ethos of cooperative benefit; it is an ethos to permit creating victims when asserting the will of the powerful. That Friedman and allied policy gurus have supported such measures is central to Klein’s book and must be part of the reckoning a concerned person undertakes.

As it happens, Free to Choose is not the right book with which to make that reckoning. It focuses on domestic economic issues rather more than the issues in other countries. While that made my second reading less fruitful than hoped, it remains a good book for understanding the Friedmans’ thought. Well presented, chatty rather than academic, the Friedmans seem like friendly if persistent relatives who just want you to understand their version of a better world. You could emerge from it a cheerleader for free market capitalism. If you do, I’d still urge that you attend to Naomi Klein’s assertions and the questions she raises. Does supporting free market capitalism in our own country require that we coercively interfere with economic decisions other countries make when pursuing their own aims, even if we think they could do better for themselves by doing what we want? Is that respecting the ideals of freedom? Of sovereignty? Of independence? Or peace? Can one simultaneously be for peace and for free markets in a corporatist world? If yes, how make it happen? Not, I’ll protest, by doing the horrific things described in The Shock Doctrine. ( )
  dypaloh | Jul 7, 2019 |
An easy introduction to the philosophy of Milton Friedman ( )
  M_Clark | Apr 27, 2016 |
I bought this book back in the "good old days" when you could purchase a hardcover book for less than ten dollars. Due to the inflationary policies that Milton Friedman warns about, and that he provides a cure for, a comparable book today carries a price tag more than double the price of the book I purchased. It was a good investment.
In the book, Milton Friedman and his wife discuss the principles of the Free Market. It is this discussion, based on the foundation laid earlier in Capitalism and Freedom, that underscores the tyranny of unlimited government. They discuss lessons that we have not learned and taken to heart, for if we had done so we would not be facing the debt crisis of the Twenty-first century. I would only question the author's optimism. He titled the last chapter "The Tide is Turning" and it may have done so, if only slightly, in some Western European countries. But the level of economic control and bureaucratic bullying has only grown worse in the United States over the last thirty years. Fortunately, the principles discussed in Free to Choose are timeless and we can turn or return to them at any time. We only have to choose freedom. ( )
  jwhenderson | Jan 16, 2015 |
This book published in 1979 by a Nobel-Prize-winning economist and his wife is still relevant (and in print) over 30 years later. The Preface tells us the book had "two parents;" Friedman's 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom where he argued free markets make for free societies, and the ten-part 1980 PBS TV series Free to Choose. (The ten episodes of the series are mirrored in the ten chapters of the book.) The book based on the series is "less abstract and more concrete." Having read the first book, I can testify to that, although there is such significant overlap I had a strong sense of déjà vu. But I also think the necessity of putting this material into documentary form helped hone and simplify their arguments. This is an extremely readable book--the New York Times Book Review called it "noteworthy for its clarity, logic, candor and unequivocating stand on political implications." The book "examines specific issues--among others, monetary and fiscal policy, the role of government in education, capitalism and discrimination, and the alleviation of poverty."

Friedman, who like Hayek, another darling of the right, considered himself a liberal, may surprise readers aware of his reputation. The suggestions on policy are thought-provoking and don't necessarily fit with what people think of as conservative orthodoxy. The Friedmans suggest vouchers as a solution for the woes of public education, "equity investment" as one alternative to high-interest student loans for higher education, an "effluent tax" as one way to deter pollution and a "negative income tax" as an alternative to welfare programs. They're thought-provoking to the end, down to their two appendices: Appendix A, the 1928 Socialist Party Platform, almost all of which has become law in America, and Appendix B, a proposal for a U.S. Constitutional Amendment to curb spending. Friedman's ideas still strike me as innovative and fresh. And whatever you might think of those ideas, it's also striking to me how well he and his wife get them across. ( )
  LisaMaria_C | Oct 12, 2012 |
Interesting text...I came to the conclusion that Friedman is a good thinker, not a great one, and a poor writer comparatively. But his position and argument are virtually irrefutable, and I make almost an identical case in a slightly different direction in my own book, The Bubble Boys (which was unfortunately savaged by a reviewer who seemed to e furious that such a position could be stated without being writen poorly and thus ignored and disregarded the contents of the book altogether in favor of her wonderful principles; so if you like this book, I could use another review of my own from someone who will do so ethically). Sowell's Knowledge and Decisions is itself based upon his study of and from Friedman, but I also think Sowell is a far better writer and his text is far more persuasive than Friedman's on that level. ( )
  jrgoetziii | Jun 7, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Milton Friedmanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Friedman, Rosemain authorall editionsconfirmed
Kamer, Rienk H.Prefacemain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Notten , Marinus Michiel vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficial. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding. -- Justice Louis Brandeis, Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 479 (1928)
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Every day each of us uses innumerable goods and services--to eat, to wear, to shelter us from the elements, or simply to enjoy.
Introduction: Ever since the first settlement of Europeans in the New World--at Jamestown in 1607 and at Plymouth in 1620--America has been a magnet for people seeking adventure, fleeing from tyranny, or simply trying to make a better life for themselves and their children.
Preface: This book has two parents: Capitalism and Freedom, our earlier book, buplished in 1962; and a TV series, titled, like the book, "Free to Choose."
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The international bestseller on the extent to which personal freedom has been eroded by government regulations and agencies while personal prosperity has been undermined by government spending and economic controls. New Foreword by the Authors; Index.

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